Mother I Make Up
by Alina Stefanescu
Their little girl toes grip the old wooden beam. My heart wobbles, stammers, trips a little, seeking balance. They might fall. They might break a leg. Anxiety splinters into epsom salt soaks, unsterilized tweezers, infected entry wounds. I know what I know about knowing. Motherhood is a literary device used to kill a likable heroine.
The balance beam is not the worst scenario. The worst follows their reckless laughter through the game of tag they keep playing as they tumble off the side of a cliff. And I am the mother, a stone statue, frozen by knowledge, unable to stop them. Imagining thirty seconds of flight before the interminable splat. Motherhood is this Grimm bro finale.
At least four times a week, I wake up after visiting the Amsterdam hotel room where Mom died in her sleep. I never know which night it will be. Which morning comes next. I wake from her smile smelling breakfast. Feeling coffee. Hearing my partner’s grizzled promise you were just dreaming. Did I dream the death? Are we going to her house for dinner? Where is my mother?
Speaking of Grimm, we’re going to have to flea-bomb the house. Thanks to Pinka. The kids cry, pull his sweater, beg daddy not to bomb the house, not to hurt the dog. We promise to discuss it at dinner before making a decision.
He didn’t want a dog. Pets are too much work. When pets die, it’s hard on the kids.
The coroner swore Mom died in her sleep never knowing what happened. I can’t believe my mother, the doctor who knew everything, died dumb.
Enter the mother I make up. On those days when I kill off her unknowing version, it is easy to invent a woman cooking sarmale. It is fun to create a mama hovering stove-side, stirring nursery rhyme porridge. Love is writing a story that kills her from recipes she forgot to pen on index cards. This mother I adore, this mother I’ve lost, this mother I keep making up.
Romanians say fleas serve an important purpose in the ecology of living. Fleas whisper true stories to Bucharest’s homeless dogs, who then carry these legends from house to house, keeping history alive. Fleas leap from fur to fur and warm our hearths. I rise from the dinner table and stand against the bombing, protest the end of the story, tell my family we must spare the fleas to keep her alive.